By RICK CLEVELAND
For more than four decades I wrote sports stories and columns about Mississippi’s sports heroes, who also happen to be some of the planet’s most marvelous athletes. As executive director of your Misssissippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, my job is to preserve those sports legends for this and future generations.
The Magnolia State has a sports legacy second to none. Let’s put it this way: Just during my sports writing career, I covered pro football’s all-time leading scorer and receiver Jerry Rice, pro football’s all-time leading passer Brett Favre, pro football’s second all-time leading rusher Walter Payton and the patriarch of America’s first family of football, Archie Manning. All hail from small-town Mississippi. And that’s just one sport. Mississippians have excelled at many others.
If you’re like me, you read all the time about Mississippi being the poorest, least educated and fattest state. At the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson, we display what Mississippians do better than anyone. We celebrate what Mississippians do best.
I want to pick up where my good friend, the late Michael Rubenstein, left off. This is, I have discovered, a daunting task. On July 4, 1996, the museum opened, a $4 million treasure chest of Mississippi’s sports history. It was billed as Mississippi’s first museum for the 21st century, and it was.
More than 16 years later, what was once cutting edge technology is now nearly obsolete. Just look at your cell phone. Look at what it does now, and remember what your cell phone was like back in 1996 if, indeed, you had one.
We are operating on 1996 software with 1996 audio visual equipment. That’s about to change. Plans are in the works to refurbish, and in some cases, re-invent, our exhibits. My job is to raise the money to pay for the work that must be done. Thanks to the hard work of Rubenstein and his splendid staff I inherited, we have money on hand to address several — but not all — needs.
You should know that since it opened 16 years ago, Mississippi’s sports museum has received no funding from any level of government. We are self supporting. We pay our own way through the events we put on ourselves, through paid admissions and through generous corporate support.
Currently, we are refurbishing our Olympic Room, our entrance area and developing new football exhibits. The old interactive kiosks, which tell so many compelling stories, soon will be replaced with new software and larger, high-definition screens. We have a new and much improved website — http://www.msfame.com  — where you learn about the museum, Mississippi sports history and read my jottings and those of Orley Hood.
How can you help? I’m glad you asked. Individual annual memberships are available at $25. Family memberships are $100. For $1,000 — $200 per year for five years if you prefer — you can join the museum’s 200 Club and become a lifetime member and be recognized on the wall at the entrance to the museum. We will be seeking corporate support to pay for new exhibits.
Or you can just come see us. We’re a bargain. Admission is $5, just $3.50 for students and seniors. Group rates are available. Our Trustmark Conference room and the museum itself are available for rental. We host everything from family reunions, to banquets, to birthday parties, to business seminars, and even weddings.
Most importantly, we tell stories about legends who, thanks to your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, will live forever. Come see us or visit http://www.msfame.com  to learn more.
Rick Cleveland is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.